Martin Daly____Use

Martin Daly

It is clear now that the pandemic began to get the better of us in March and April and succeeded in surging to almost overwhelming proportions in the just concluded month of May.

Although prematurely boastful, we appeared to have done well in restraining the advance of the pandemic for the preceding twelve months. Sadly we began this month facing a worrying future.

There is, in my view, a distinction between accountability and blame. Persons in public life in our polarised political environment have difficulty in making the distinction. Persons in Cabinet office, in particular, are frequently incapable of distinguishing citizens who, acting in furtherance of accountability, dissent or make recommendations from other citizens, who are full-throated allies of tribal type opposition.

The Government seeks to place responsibility for this sad state of surge on citizen behaviour and tries to evade any accountability for it. I have suggested that the Government bears a significant share of that responsibility. It let Easter loose in the face of evidence of ominous increases in infections, which was available in early-March.

Another subject for serious accountability, and one not to be diminished because it also features in the zig-zag utterances of the Opposition, is the continuing arrival of Venezuelan migrants.

Some facts cannot be doubted. The number of migrants is significant. They do not enter with the sanction of the Immigration department of the Ministry of National Security. Their arrival is sometimes assisted by racketeering elements, some of whom may be persons acting in betrayal of their duty of fidelity to the State. The Minister of National Security has acknowledged in a media conference that fifteen beaches are “active points of illegal entry”- Trinidad Guardian May 3, 2021.

In light of those facts, repeated references to our “porous borders” cannot be objectionable. What incurs the wrath of the Government are two expressions of opinion. One is that the Coastguard is inefficient. The Government responds that the Opposition, when in Government, hobbled the Coastguard by cancelling specialized vessels on order.

However, the illegal entry of Venezuelan migrants relates to the defence of our country and is harmful, whether they bring in variants of the virus or not. These illegal activities can be disrupted on land by deployment of the Defence Force supported by police to make the arrests. Such police presence is not even necessary while there is a State of Emergency.

Although the introduction of the South American variant of the virus into our country has been confirmed and a Venezuelan migrant (immigration status kept secret) was the first case identified with this variant, the other touchy subject is that illegal migration through these borders is a source of rapid spread of the virus.

This is no time to be touchy. If these illegal points of entry are a gateway for the South American variant, known as the Brazilian or P.1 variant, it is not a risk to be tolerated because “some variants have been reported to be more virulent and transmissible”- Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) statement on the P.1 variant. It is also accepted that our country lacks capacity for testing for the presence of this variant. Therefore, the Government is extremely unwise to rate the infection risk through porous borders as inconclusive or low.

Moreover, the socio-economic implications of the disruption of the economy by the pandemic, now under the influence of the variant, will be prolonged. These prolonged implications require wider decision making consultations, with accommodation for the cadre of innovative thinkers available here and in the diaspora, to stir up the ideas received from the politically blued-eyed adherents that populate official committees.

Reluctance to embrace the leadership of sectors outside of Government runs counter to the exhortations that “we are all in this together”. It undermines public trust and limits the persuasive reach of Government.

Fortunately, breaking news suggests that a donation of vaccines from the US Government will be coming to protect some more, but by no means, all our citizens . That breaking news must be why the Attorney General appeared to be late with publishing additional Emergency Regulations regarding curfew but is real early with an announcement about next Carnival.

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The initiation of a Commission of Enquiry into the Government’s management of Covid-19, for which Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is so passionately clamouring, would be instructive if it presented an opportunity for the people of Trinidad and Tobago to hear from her just how she would have managed this health crisis had she been in charge.

The hush-hush arrival of a “small donation” of vials of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, flown in and apparently hand-delivered by courier to the Ministry of National Security, raises more questions than the number of vials involved.

I am repeatedly asked by various stakeholders whether Covid-19 vaccination could be made mandatory, so today I offer some initial thoughts.

This is not a clear-cut legal question and there are good arguments on both sides. There is no law, precedent or policy which governs the matter at present. Labour law, public health and human rights issues intermingle and ultimately, what is reasonable and in the majority interest would likely prevail.

Why would a person willingly give up their family, job and community to embark on an illegal, dangerous journey to another country?

In the case of the Venezuelans, it’s because they are generally running away from unbearable, life-threatening circumstances.

Did the staff at the health centres know only 50 persons could have been be vaccinated per day? When they realised this, did they not think to register the names and telephone numbers of the other elderly citizens already in line from 5.30 a.m. who were sent home when the vaccinations ran out?

I hope the Government considers giving a booster shot of the Sinopharm vaccine if supplies are available to this country. Dr Amery Browne, Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, said T&T will receive 200,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China this week.